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No Electricity for Weeks – What Would You Do?

by Victoria Gazeley

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My son and I have been watching the Little House on the Prairie series on DVD.

If you’re not familiar with this icon of 1970s North American television, it’s the story of a pioneer family in Walnut Grove, a tiny town in Minnesota in the late 1800s.  We’ve watched them battle blizzards and crop failures, economic downturns and pandemics.  And through it all, there’s something staring the viewer in the face – there was a world before electricity.  And a big, rich one at that.  People were resilient – they knew how to look after themselves, and bounced back from calamity.

Of course, most of us find that life hard to imagine.  The ‘electrification’ of North America fundamentally changed our society, family life, and the way we live.  Whether that was for better or worse is a topic for another time.

So imagine for a moment what it would be like to be without power at your home for a week, two weeks, a month, 6 months.

Now, I’m no fear monger or doomsday-ist… doomsday-er? (is that even a word?).  Nor do I identify with the ‘survivalist’ camp.  Far from it.  I believe that the massive changes we’re currently experiencing across the planet will lead to a brilliant transformed society once we come out the other side, but that there will be some growing pains during the transition.  It’s those pain points where we can really make a difference by being prepared.

Extended Power Outages Aren’t Fiction

Personally, I’ve never been through a power outage that lasted more than 2 or 3 days (at most).  I find it hard to image what an extended outage would look like.  But it we think it’s an impossibility, we’re sadly mistaken.  Just ask anyone who has been through one, during war or disaster, and they’ll tell you all about it.

So what could cause a power loss for longer than a few days?

  • Natural Disaster - You don’t have to look far to find a lot of those the last few years.  Floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis… all can disrupt electrical systems over wide areas for long periods of time.  Even if you’re not in the directly affected area, these events can really wreak havoc.
  • Weather Extremes – These are become more common as well, as the climate shifts and changes.  Heatwaves can cause excess demand on fragile, antiquated power grids, as well as the conditions we saw across so much of the northern hemisphere in the summer of 2010 (and summers before that) that created massive wildfires, knocking out power over vast regions.  And cold weather has the same effect on demand, with the added threat of freezing to death without adequate warmth should an ice storm or some other extreme event shut down power stations and distribution lines.
  • Solar Activity - Here’s where you might think I’ve gone a bit ‘woo-woo’, but I’ve read many express concern that the next solar maximum is going to be a doozy, and there is potential for fragile power grids to be completely knocked out of service.  For months.  I don’t know much (OK, anything, really) about how the sun’s activity affects electrical systems here on earth, but I’m thinking NASA does.  And they’re concerned (NASA space weather link).  They’ve even got a map of the US posted that shows the areas that could be most affected due to the way the grids are constructed.  Bottom line: we can’t do anything about this one but get ready.

What Would a Long-Term Outage Look Like?

So say the worst happens and we get bombarded by a super solar storm and the electrical grid goes down just like in that map (or even parts of that map), for weeks on end.

What would you do?

For the majority of people living in ‘modern’ (read “electricity dependent”) communities, it would look something like this:

  • You couldn’t get money from a bank.
  • Hospitals would likely be unable to operate at normal levels (or some, even any level – they have back-up power systems, but those usually rely on fossil fuels, which might not be available if the electrical systems that run the pumps and distribution system fail).
  • Commerce as we know it would essentially cease – it would be virtually impossible to buy anything, anywhere.
  • You’d have no hot water.
  • You’d have no heat.
  • You couldn’t fill your car with fuel.
  • Most transportation would cease.
  • There would be no internet, no DVDs, no movies.
  • In a mass failure, it would be unlikely you could use your cell phone.
  • You’d be unable to refill critical prescriptions
  • You couldn’t cook your food (But ‘my range is gas’, you say?  As far as I understand, it’s all distributed through electrically managed systems).
  • You couldn’t go to hospital to take care of any injuries.
  • You’d have no refrigeration for your food.
  • Depending on where you live, you might have no running water.
  • Your plumbing systems might not work.
  • and the list goes on..

It’s actually pretty frightening when you get past denial and let your brain go there.

In all honestly, it used to completely freak me out.  And obviously it’s freaked a lot of other people out too, because in the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of websites dealing with ‘prepping’ and emergency supplies.  At first I thought it was all the crazy 2012 paranoia, but the more I’ve educated myself, the more I realize that the possibility of a massive power failure isn’t so crazy.  Especially from the perspective of solar activity and natural disaster.

OK – Now What?

So what’s a person to do?

Start small, and build from there.

Sit down and make a list of how your life would be affected should such an event occur.  Buy some emergency supplies.  Plan for cooking and warmth.  Learn how to grow sprouts.  Upgrade your first aid training.  Buy a bike and trailer.  Get to know your neighbours.

Most of all, do not go to a place of fear.  There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of if you take the steps now to get organized.  Educate yourself, but I recommend you avoid the fear-mongering, conspiracty-theorizing websites – there are a lot of them and frankly, I think they do more harm than help… but that’s just my opinion.

My goal is to have us all empowered and feeling good about our knowledge and skills.  Comfortable with living without electricity.  Confident we can not just survive, but thrive should the worst happen.  Bottom line: the more each of us are prepared, the less chaotic any major electrical grid event will be.

And really, what’s the harm in being prepared, just in case?

Worst case: You are able to look after your family during an extended emergency, helping them stay comfortable and most of all, safe.

Best case: (Which I’m hoping for!) you have a tonne of great camping food and will be all cozy when the next snow storm takes out power to your house.

I can’t really find a down side.  Can you?

Funny thing is, in the days depicted on Little House on the Prairie, a doozy of a solar maximum would have probably had no effect whatsoever.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Emergency Supply Resources (US)

Depending on what you need for your emergency kit and your budget, you can either build it yourself or buy everything you need already prepared.  We’re in the process of putting our supplies together, and will be reviewing different emergency food options on our website over the next few months.  You can figure out what you’ll need using the handy planning sheets you’ll get when you sign up for The Ready Store’s newsletter.

If you want to purchase ready-made kits, here are a few online options:

Most of the online resources are in the US, but if you’re in Canada or another country, ask at your local emergency planning office, or do a search online and you’ll come up with all sorts of options.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

rosemis January 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm

This is a very thought provoking article. “What would this NYC girl do if EVERYTHING came to a skreeching halt?” … This really is something for high rise dwellers to really consider. Excellent info Victoria !!

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Victoria Gazeley January 13, 2011 at 12:20 am

It’s definitely challenging, and something for the strata or building owners or residents to ponder as a group. I used to live in a 120 unit townhouse complex in the city, with no central storage or anywhere to keep much of anything. It’s time we start designing buildings with these things in mind, but with real estate values so high, especially in cities like New York and Vancouver (average, tiny apartment starting at about $350K and up), I’m not sure how that would work. It’s quite the pickle, but not insurmountable. Even just a basic emergency kit with 3-7 days of supplies would be a huge help! They’re easy to buy and quite compact – compact enough to store in an apartment, for sure. Let us know how it goes if you decide to start putting supplies together – it would be a great story to share.

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Susan McKenzie January 12, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Just having come from a year+ in rural Wyoming and into semi-country living in Montana, I can imagine many people out West will have it much easier than those in the heart of cities… your website will hopefully help to open eyes, because even in the cities and suburbs you can take precautions – the suggestions you have in various articles on your site are extremely helpful and you present everything in bite-size, “I can do it” size pieces – I really appreciate you, Victoria!

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Victoria Gazeley January 13, 2011 at 12:14 am

Thanks, Susan. That’s my goal – to help everyone, city or country, get set up so they can thrive should these events come to pass. There’s a lot to do, and it’s challenging to think of it in little chunks, but it’s the only way to get it done. It’s WAY too overwhelming otherwise. Thanks so much for your comments!

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Anonymous January 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

This is a real eye-opener! We spent a total of almost a month without electricity in 2004 when Florida was hit with three hurricanes back to back. The longest period was almost 2 weeks…nothing teaches like firsthand experience but I sure wish I had your article back then!!!

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Carolbender8 January 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

My first response to your question was “READ”. Then I read your post and I am impressed. What a wealth of valuable information, thanks. I am slightly more fortunate since we embrace country living on our little farm. We have a generator, burn wood from our own land, and often joke that this is where the party will be if the power goes out. Parts of your post made me laugh out loud, don’t think I’m going ‘woo woo’, but my husband keeps eyeballing a tree that may fall on some lines and I joke with him to stop thinking about it or he will manifest our next power outage. It’s good to be prepared and your article is going to help a lot of people do that. I am sharing. Thanks.

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Victoria Gazeley January 13, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Thanks so much for stopping by, Carol! It’s really so simple to get prepared, even for minor emergencies. We just have to do it (I’m in that process now). As I watch all those poor people in Australia, I wonder how many had made plans for just such an event – probably not too many. As for trees and power outages, I hear you! There are so many here, basically hanging over the lines for miles and miles, that it doesn’t take much for it to go down – though thankfully, it’s never for long. But if there is an extended version, I want to be ready so we’re not uncomfortable and can continue on with life – without the computer, of course!! Thanks so much for your comments… :o)

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